Author Archives: Rachel Ruhlen

Job Opportunity

Transportation Planner (Part-Time)

The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission is currently seeking applications for a part-time Transportation Planner (job description).  The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission is the regional planning agency serving 11 jurisdictions in western Virginia. The Regional Commission staff also support the functions of the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization, a seven-jurisdiction area encompassing the urbanized area of the Roanoke Valley. The Regional Commission is a leader in driving collaboration and strategy within our communities on transportation issues that are critical to the economic growth and quality of life of this region.  Under the direct supervision of the Director of Transportation, is responsible for performing transportation-related professional and technical work independently and in teams. Such work may include preparing and developing plans and reports, creating maps, conducting field work, maintaining databases, analyzing and interpreting transportation information, presenting information to stakeholders, and representing the Commission to local or state organizations.

This position will be part-time at 20 hours/week.  Salary will be negotiated depending on qualifications.  The position is open until filled and initial candidates will be selected for first round interviews on Friday, July 27, 2018.  To apply, send a cover letter and resume to sdean@rvarc.org or by mail to the below address:

Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission
P.O. Box 2569
Roanoke, VA  24010

Meet the renovated Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee

In August of 2016, the Regional Bicycle Advisory Committee met for the first time in a couple of years. Most of those who attended were locality staff, and they missed the citizens who had given such valuable input into the bike projects throughout the years. New staff struggled to understand the purpose and function of the committee and its history. In short, the committee experienced an existential crisis, asking why it existed, who it was, what it should do, and how it should do it.

Committee members explore the Garden City Greenway with the engineer on an annual field trip

After several deep discussions, the group worked with the Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) to develop its purpose and procedures. Its named changed to the Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, reflecting the close relationship of bicycle and pedestrian issues.

The purpose of the Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee is to facilitate regional collaboration with diverse stakeholders in planning bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the Roanoke Valley. It develops an Action Plan to guide its efforts each year and reports to the Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) of the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization. Members are roughly half locality staff and half citizens.

The TTC adopted the purpose and procedures of the new committee on January 11, 2018 and began accepting applications for the ten at-large positions. Astonishingly, the TTC received 25 applications! Applications included teachers, bike shops, accountants, and non-profit staff. They bike and walk for transportation, for fun and fitness, or by necessity. We had a diverse pool of applicants representing “protected populations” criteria such as mobility impairment, visual impairment, minority, and low-income. With so many well-qualified applicants, the decisions were difficult.

In April, the TTC appointed the initial ten at-large members to staggered two-year terms. The committee itself will make future appointments subject to TTC approval. The committee will meet on June 21, 2018, 4:00 – 6:00 pm at the Regional Commission, 313 Luck Ave SW, to learn about its roles and responsibilities and discuss its Action Plan. Meetings are open to the public. Learn more on the committee web page.

New Public Participation Plan adopted

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) adopted a Public Participation Plan on February 22, 2018, replacing the 2007 Public Participation Plan.

The purpose of public participation is to support transportation planning and promote the integrity and transparency of the transportation planning process.

RVTPO wants public participation to be:

  • Meaningful to the public – People should feel that their comments matter. Public input into a transportation plan should be timely, happen early enough to influence the outcome, and continue as the plan develops. The RVTPO is accountable to the public for their input. RVTPO Policy Board decisions reflect the diversity of viewpoints.
  • High quality – When people understand that transportation planning is complex, regional, and long-term, they can give input that is relevant, thoughtful, and practical. The RVTPO educates and explains transportation planning. Clarity of purpose and clarity of expectation improve the quality of public input.
  • Variety of input – The RVTPO seeks a breadth of representation in public input that is from different points of view, different needs, and different backgrounds.
  • High quantity – The more people who are engaged, the better the RVTPO can understand the transportation needs and priorities of the region. The RVTPO will provide convenient and delightful ways to participate with many options of how to participate, and continue to seek new ways to invite participation.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) fully complies with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related statutes and regulations in all programs and activities. The RVTPO also complies with ADA requirements. For more information about Title VI and ADA compliance, click here.

RVARC researches online survey tools

Example of a MetroQuest survey

Choosing the right online survey tool is one of several critical aspects to a successful survey. RVARC staff researched other cities, states, and MPOs to learn which survey tools other agencies are using and for what purposes.

RVARC staff considered several factors in evaluating online survey tools. Online survey tools generally have standard options such as multiple choice, select all that apply, short answer, and long answer. Some survey tools allow image-based questions or skip-logic depending on how the respondent answers a question. Some create mobile-friendly surveys or surveys that can be embedded in a website. Some survey tools limit the survey to a single page. An integrated map tool is an essential feature for transportation-related surveys.

SurveyMonkey is a standard among many agencies, and inexpensive. The RVARC has subscribed to SurveyMonkey for years.

Google Forms is a free option that is easy to use and integrate into a website or email.

MetroQuest surveys can get thousands of responses. MetroQuest specializes in public input for planning. MetroQuest developed a survey tool with the philosophy that public input should be a delightful experience.

Taking a MetroQuest survey is like playing a video game. Respondents drop virtual coins into different buckets representing road maintenance, transit, or sidewalks. They drag topics to the top of a list to indicate their priorities. They experiment with scenarios to modulate trade-offs among their priorities. They move pointers around on a map. MetroQuest is an excellent, though costly, survey tool.

Other survey tools that could be used for public input include PublicInput.com, Snap Surveys, Survey Act, Survey Gizmo, and SoGoSurvey. Tools for interactive forum discussions on individual projects include Mind Mixer, Peak Democracy, and Bang the Table.

You may see some of these tools employed in the next Long-Range Transportation Plan update.

Workshop on Performance Measurement of Transportation to Promote Economic Vitality

Workshop attendees discuss economic development and transportation

“We don’t have transportation for the sake of transportation,” Eric Sundquist from Transportation for America (T4America, a program of Smart Growth America) told workshop attendees. “Transportation helps us achieve other goals,” such as getting to a job or moving freight. The link between transportation and the regional economy is strong, but their relationship is changing.

Chris Zimmerman, Vice President for Economic Development Smart Growth America, described this and how investments in transportation help economic growth. In the past decades, economic development was often cheap land near a highway. Mr. Zimmerman explained that the return on investment of that model is declining, and today’s successful economic development efforts will focus on walkability and infill development to attract high wage workers and their employers.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) recently received a technical assistance grant from T4America to incorporate performance measures into transportation planning. At the same time, the RVTPO hired Economic Development Research Group, Inc. (EDR) to identify 5-10 transportation projects that will promote regional economic development. The Regional Study on Transportation Project Prioritization for Economic Development and Growth steering committee directs both efforts.

T4America, EDR, and the RVTPO invited members of the steering committee, the RVTPO Policy Board, the RVTPO Transportation Technical Committee, and other business and economic development stakeholders to a workshop at the Green Ridge Recreation Center on November 29. Over 40 participants discussed:

  • What makes a good transportation performance measure to assess progress toward economic development goals
  • How to use performance measures to select projects, such as in VDOT’s Smart Scale funding process
  • What a transportation need is

View the presentations here.

T4America and EDR will return in 2018 to follow up with a second workshop.

Bike to Work Day!

The Regional Commission Bike Room recently got a facelift. A cleanup and a little paint transformed it from a dank and scary closet into a bright and spacious room. The six (of thirteen) employees who sometimes bike celebrated the improved Bike Room by all biking on the same day! Before the renovation, this would have been a problem– the Bike Room didn’t hold six bicycles.

Before work began, the bike room shared space with janitorial and other supplies.

RIDE Solutions staff Tim and Jeremy painted and laid tile. Renovation cost: $0! They selected paint and tiles from what they had on hand.

The maximum capacity before renovation was 4 bikes. The capacity after is 6 bikes and room to spare!

The parking lot is normally full, unless we’re all at a meeting. Today is was empty– but we were all here!

All 6 bikes in 1 parking space

Each bike in its own parking space

How do you get your baby to the WIC office up the hill?

A steep hill to push a stroller on a hot day

“The bus doesn’t stop in front of the WIC office in the Northwest. Mothers have to walk two blocks to get there with babies and toddlers.”

This comment was a response to a survey question about long range transportation planning. The Northwest WIC clinic is at the First Church of the Brethren on Carroll Ave NW on top of the ridge. The nearest bus stop is only a quarter-mile away, but no one wants to push a stroller up that steep and treeless climb.

Betty at the WIC clinic gets off the bus four blocks away to avoid the arduous hill. The WIC clinic sees fewer clients than expected because of the hill. Mothers arrive hot and sweaty and asking for water.

The Public Participation Plan ad-hoc committee, tasked with developing a new public participation plan for the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization, reviewed the survey responses. After we read that comment, a member observed, “A mother trying to get her baby to the WIC office isn’t interested in a 20-year transportation plan.”

Does your long-range transportation vision include easy access to the WIC office for everyone? How would you solve this problem? What other problems would your solutions introduce?

Solution Feasibility issues Introduced problems
Reroute the bus Affects the rest of the route
Move the WIC office Inferior office space, cost
Run a van to the bus stop Expensive insurance, child seats, staff time
Call Uber for the last block Expensive at $7.70, and no child seats Introduce traffic congestion
Automated vehicles Don’t exist yet Introduce traffic congestion

 

Over the past decades, the region and the nation has done an excellent job of making it easy for most people to get anywhere. The Roanoke Valley has lots of cars, lots of roads, and lots of parking places. Roanoke’s collective mobility is better than ever.

In making it so easy for most people to get everywhere, it’s become very difficult for some people to get anywhere. Over 13% of the Roanoke City households don’t have a car, but nearly all destinations can only be accessed by a car. More than 1 in every 10 people are virtually excluded from daily life: having a job, shopping, visiting the doctor, or going to church, just so that the other 9 of us can do all these things so easily.

This situation has been decades in the making, and will not change overnight. The long-range transportation plan, updated every 5 years, is about getting the balance right, keeping it easy for most people to get most places without putting a great transportation burden on the most disadvantaged.

APA Virginia Chapter Annual Conference

RVARC staff were delighted to participate in APA Virginia Chapter’s annual statewide conference here in Roanoke this week. Staff coordinated the Local Food Mobile Tour in conjunction with City of Roanoke, Virginia – Government staff. This tour showcased the West End neighborhood revitalization efforts. Special thanks to LEAP for Local FoodRoanoke Community Garden Association, Freedom First Credit Union and Carilion, among other speakers!

Fresh produce on the Local Food Mobile Tour

Staff assisted RIDE Solutions with the “Where the Sidewalk Ends” mobile tour and scavenger hunt. Participants competed to complete tasks in three regions– Downtown, Crystal Springs, and The Towers– with limited transportation resources.

“Where the sidewalk ends” scavenger hunt required participants to navigate obstructions.

What do YOU think about public participation?

Staff listen and talk to visitors at the Regional Commission Open House

Tell us what you think about public participation in transportation planning.

The following names are changed, but based on real people.

Keith drives by himself to work every day. His commute used to be an easy 15 minutes but now takes twice that or more because of congestion.

Michelle is disabled. She rides the bus to the grocery store, and schedules paratransit to the doctor. She would like to get a job at the mall, but the bus doesn’t run that late.

Carrie has a salon in a little commercial area. The truck carrying her order of hair product couldn’t get through the construction detour last week. Her customers are ordering it online instead—and she’s losing profits.

Jeff got rid of his car after one too many traffic tickets. He walks or bikes everywhere, occasionally calling Uber. Visiting his parents on the other side of the steepest hill in town is not easy!

Sarah is a Millennial who hasn’t learned to drive or ride a bicycle. Uber eats up a lot of her part-time, minimum wage job. She’s scared to walk the 1 mile or to try the bus.

Transportation is complex. Expert traffic engineers and planners are essential, but that’s not enough to design a good transportation system. A good transportation system requires YOU. Planners and engineers have training and expertise, but YOU help provide the comprehensive perspective of the entire community.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization’s (RVTPO) Public Participation Plan is being updated, and the committee developing the new plan drafted the plan’s purpose and goals.

Why does the RVTPO want public participation?

What is important about public participation?

Share your thoughts! Take this short survey, and encourage your friends and colleagues to take the survey too!